There was a time in my life, not that long ago, when I was terrified of public speaking. So terrified, in fact, that it was hard for me to speak in my graduate school classes. I would panic and that panic felt like I couldn’t breathe. My face turned bright red and my hands became sweaty.
I avoided speaking in front of others with all of my might. I hid behind my camera and my keyboard, writing and taking photographs and sharing my work and myself with the world that way.
Then one day I stood in front of a church. To this day I don’t understand this at all. I didn’t see it coming, I hadn’t planned for it, it was not an intention I had for my life. Someone invited me to lead a service of worship and I said yes. Even though I had no experience, no idea what I was I doing and felt that I had no authority whatsoever to stand in front of people seated in pews and speak to them.
On that day there was a tremendous storm. Thunder and lightning, nearby. The power went out, which didn’t affect us because we were in an old meeting house that had no electricity. But it was dark, so we lit candles. When I stood up to be introduced a very loud clap of thunder boomed outside and I knew then that this was either a very bad idea or a good one.
As it turns out, it was a very good idea. And continues to be. I felt, that morning standing in front of those lovely humans, that I had come home. It’s a good idea, in this life, to stick with something when it feels like home.
I still get nervous when I speak in front of a group, but only a little, only enough.
What I have come to understand is that my life experiences, when placed in a universal context, might be helpful for others, might help someone make sense of their life, and so I feel a kind of responsibility to do this work; a sense of awe that I am given opportunities to speak and a sense of joy in being with people these ways.
My manifesto is simple: we are here to help each other. And help can come in many forms, many ways. We all know what it means to help someone, to step aside, out of our natural inclination for self preservation and be of use to this world, but many things keep us from acting.
It’s my hope and intention that I can use my life experiences to inspire in people a desire to act. The world in which we live is in great need. We are trashing our beautiful environment, we are weakening the bonds of human connection with our reliance on devices and we are living in a time of confusion and fear. The counterbalance is action born of love, I am absolutely certain of this.
I will be speaking at All Souls Interfaith Gathering in Shelburne, Vermont tomorrow, Sunday, October 21 at 5 PM as part of their Music & Spirit series. I hope you will join us. I have heard there are plans for a campfire. I have heard it might snow. How perfect. Amen.